Just a few sort of related thoughts…
I’ve never felt comfortable with the way the word ‘religion’ is used, either in the church, society, or academia. As with many, many things, arguments often conceal a fundamental difference in definition of a term, but it seems to me that many people who are pro-religious/religion or anti-religious/religion mean very different things by the word ‘religion.’ The same thing goes for ‘spirituality’ (which, as a term, I have no time for as it patently seems to mean so many things that it means nothing, but I digress…)
So, to critique or support religion, I feel one needs to indicate what one means by ‘religion.’ I, personally, would define religion sort of broadly—‘a worldview with reference to the nature of *ultimate reality* (to use Tillich’s phrase) which is situated in some sort of tradition’—which means, to me, lots of things can fall under the rubric of religion which are not necessarily organized or considered a ‘traditional’ religion. (I would argue, along with others, that atheism, some forms of Darwinism, or scientism can also be considered religious.) All of this ramble is to say, religion is so varied, to attack it as a group is practically useless. And, as far as I’m concerned, ‘religion’ is inevitable in people; the question is more how people use it to influence themselves and other people, as well as its ultimate truth, which are the important concerns. Anyone who claims not to be religious, I feel is disingenuous.
Now: the label ‘Christian.’ I would echo the sentiments that we are called to follow Christ and not ‘Christianity.’ That said, many of the critiques of the term religion apply for Christianity. Additionally, all faith inevitably comes within a context, and that context inevitably has some form of Christian tradition around it. One of my pet peeves in the American Church is the habit of calling oneself ‘non-denominational’; if one looks at the history of the church, one can very clearly see that ‘non denominationalism’ is very much a particular tradition of approaching the faith (albeit one that claims to be a tradition-denying one). Even if one has problems with all particular traditions/ denominations/ schools/ believers (which, to be honest, is really inevitable on some level) one needs to realize one’s understanding of Christ and the gospel come out of a context. If one is claiming to be a follower of Christ but not Christian or something similar, that still comes out of a (largely American) humanistic tradition that can find origins in the Enlightenment. Nothing is a vacuum.
The same thing can be said of Jesus himself: he was a Jew, his worldview, and his religion (and the religion of his followers) came out of that situation. To be a little more confessional, I’d consider myself to be Christian, and largely fit myself within the Protestant tradition, and more specifically with the Anglican tradition. But let me say, all Christian traditions and denominations, be they Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, some Protestant denomination or ‘non-denomination,’ have their good aspects and negative aspects. In the end, we are called to follow Christ personally, and to endeavor to help ourselves and others along the way in community is some way or form, and to engage creatively with the tradition in which we find ourselves, utilizing the good aspects and attempting to redress the negative.
Jason M. Silverman
15 Feb 2007